On a cloudy November day, EPISO/Border Interfaith celebrated the initiation of a $13 Million project that will provide 816 Montana Vista residents with water and wastewater services in a colonia far east of El Paso. El Paso Water Utilities publicly recognized the organization for its leadership in ensuring that residents have access to these essential services.
For years, Montana Vista felt like a forgotten community due to poverty, isolation and a lack of relationships with elected officials. Residents appealed to their then-priest at San Juan Diego Catholic for support in getting much needed basic streets, parks and wastewater services. A longtime leader and co-chair of EPISO, Father Ed Roden-Lucero and EPISO organizers worked with resident leaders, guiding them in their efforts to seek essential infrastructure.
Part of those efforts included community education about the Economically Distressed Areas Program, a program created in 1989 by EPISO/Border Interfaith and sister Texas IAF organizations to address lack of infrastructure in the colonias. That same year, EPISO/BI and Texas IAF organizations got out the vote to amend the Texas Constitution to provide the Texas Water Development Board $200 million dollars to issue grants and loans to install water and wastewater infrastructure in colonias and economically distressed areas. Since 1989, over $1 Billion dollars have been invested in colonias and economically distressed areas across Texas.
Change is coming to Montana Vista. In January, a long-fought for (and separately funded) road extension was newly opened, with four lanes, bike routes, sidewalks, lighting, and landscaping. Now, to community acclaim, El Paso Water is breaking ground for Phase 1 of its water and wastewater project -- scheduled for completion within 18 months.
Included in recent TIME reporting was an assembly organized by EPISO/Border Interfaith in which 300 institutional leaders gathered alongside 12 local, state and congressional leaders who all pledged to reassure the community -- especially its most vulnerable members.
At one point, the assembly intentionally broke out into small group check-ins responding to the questions: "How are you doing? What do you need?" Heartfelt conversations around the room elicited emotional stories from attendees, public officials, and even media covering the gathering.
In the assembly, Texas State Representative Cesar Blanco committed to working with the Texas IAF network to identify state emergency resources for counseling and professional services for El Paso schools. He also committed to developing a plan for state legislation promoting gun safety, including bans on assault rifles, universal background checks, and red flag alerts.
At the urging of EPISO/Border Interfaith leaders, school officials agreed to coordinate direct support for families most in need of care to process the shooting.
Leaders are continuing to focus public officials on a mental health response, as part of a comprehensive approach to recent shootings.
'Trauma Doesn't Go Away By Itself.' How El Paso is Tackling Mental Health Stigma After the Walmart Mass Shooting, TIME Magazine [pdf]
EPISO Leaders Rev. Matta & De Avila: We Must Not Let Fear Succeed in Creating Distrust, Hateful Fear
On Aug. 3, our El Paso community was viciously attacked, and we are experiencing deep grief. Yes, we need to take the necessary time to process this pain and publicly lament together. But soon we must also begin to channel this sense of loss to reclaim a sense of community that we will all be proud of.
Terrorism wants to create mistrust and deep hateful fear. Such fear works to drive people away from one another. It scapegoats the immigrant, people of color, those of different faith traditions, people of a different culture and language. It twists and turns us to make others seem not human.
That is not El Paso, and we must not let fear succeed....
We Must Not Let Fear Succeed in Creating Distrust, Hateful Fear, El Paso Times [pdf]
Just days after the shooting that targeted Latinos in El Paso, 300 EPISO/Border Interfaith leaders and clergy gathered to "stand against fear" and begin a community-wide healing process alongside 12 local, state and congressional leaders who all pledged to reassure the community -- especially its most vulnerable members.
“We must understand that terrorism wants to create fear and division that promotes misunderstanding, mistrust and violence,” said Fr. Pablo Matta, EPISO/Border Interfaith co-chair and pastor of St. Paul Catholic Church in El Paso. “That is not El Paso, and we must not let fear succeed.”
Leaders in the pews made commitments to launch parish-based listening sessions throughout El Paso to reach those feeling most anxious and isolated, to secure additional emergency counseling and mental health services and to actively support legislation to curb gun violence.
“I’m ready to walk with you,” said US Congresswoman Veronica Escobar, asserting that the attack goes deeper than a permissive gun culture. "You all are about accountability. We have to be accountable with the people who use language that inspires hate."
Similarly, Catholic Bishop Mark Seitz and Episcopal Bishop Michael Buerkel Hunn urged leaders to actively engage those feeling uneasy and isolated and to elicit their stories and concerns. “El Paso is a special community,” said Bishop Seitz. “We have an opportunity to do this for the rest of the country.”
The assembly broke out into small group conversations, responding to the questions: "How are you doing? What do you need?" Heartfelt conversations around the room elicited emotional stories -- and many tears -- from attendees, public officials, and even media covering the gathering.
Other officials in attendance included State Representative Cesar Blanco, County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, County Commissioners Vince Perez and David Stout, City Representatives Cassandra Hernandez and Claudia Ordaz Perez, City Manager Tommy Gonzalez, Ysleta ISD Superintendent Xavier De La Torre and El Paso ISD School Board Trustee Freddy Kayel-Avalos.
Representative Blanco committed to work with the Texas IAF network around developing a plan for state legislation promoting gun safety, including bans on assault rifles, universal background checks, and red flag alerts. He also committed to working with leaders to identify state emergency resources for counseling and professional services for El Paso schools. City and County officials agreed to develop a strategy to reassure immigrant families and their children, encouraging them not to be afraid of local law enforcement nor of public services. School officials agreed to coordinate direct support for families most in need of care to process the shooting.
[Photo Credit: Briana Sanchez, El Paso Times]
Standing Against Fear: Catholic Church Hosts Interfaith Gathering After Mass Shooting, El Paso Times [pdf]
Multiethnic Group Holds Vigil to Remember Victims of El Paso Shooting, FOX News
What Next? El Paso Faith Community Shares Stories of Fear and Anger in Shooting Aftermath, America Magazine [pdf]
[Excerpts from America Magazine below...]
The Rev. Pablo Matta was one of a number of priests who visited El Paso hospitals in the hours after a gunman with a high-powered rifle opened fire Aug. 3 in a Walmart massacre that took 22 lives....“I saw a lot of the people that died,” Father Matta said....
“There’s a lot of grief,” [Dolores DeAvila] said. Ms. DeAvila, a leader with El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization/Border Interfaith, has spoken with many who lost loved ones in the shooting or were in the vicinity. She described the panic that ensued in nearby restaurants, including one where people hid in a walk-in cooler. “We say we’re prepared [for a mass shooting], but we’re not,” she said.
EPISO/Border Interfaith is organizing a community event on Aug. 8 at St. Paul Church, where Father Matta is pastor. In addition to fear, Ms. DeAvila said there is a lot of anger around assault weapons.
“This is a community that was attacked and they understand that,” Joe Rubio, director of the West/Southwest Industrial Area Foundation, a network of community organizations, said of the attack.
“There is incredible grief, and it’s starting to turn into anger. People are starting to look for someone to blame for this,” Mr. Rubio said. “The church can take part in helping to shape people’s reaction to this. Not just by having a vigil, but in a way people can create public accountability for who bears responsibility for unleashing this kind of destruction and hate.”
Mr. Rubio believes there should be an organized response supporting restrictions on assault rifles and background checks for individuals seeking to purchase firearms. “There’s a prophetic role for the church to play in this conversation,” he said. “We’re going to either proactively save people or they’re going to pay with their lives.”
What Next? El Paso Faith Community Shares Stories of Fear and Anger in Shooting Aftermath, America Magazine [pdf]
In a move to boost voter turnout among neglected communities, Texas IAF organizations reached into suburbs surrounding Texas’ largest cities to assemble by the thousands in political, nonpartisan assemblies to help leaders wrest commitments from candidates for state and federal office. Having witnessed candidate responses to locally-developed agendas, which span from local control to Texas school finance and federal immigration reform, leaders are now mobilizing their neighbors to Get Out The Vote.
In North Dallas, for example, two thousand DAI leaders -- many from Carrollton and Farmers Branch -- invited candidates for House Districts 114, 115, 105 and 107, and Congressional District 32, to commit to investing public funds in local labor market intermediaries, crafting immigration reform that would end the separation of children from their parents at the border (and include protections for DACA youth), cracking down on predatory lending, and repealing Senate Bill 4. Hundreds more from Austin and Hayes County challenged candidates for US Congressional Districts 25 and 21, and State House Districts 47, 45 and 136 to publicly pledge support for similar priorities, including the defense of local control over municipal housing and labor policy. In Helotes, just outside of San Antonio, COPS / Metro leaders carted out boxes with thousands of postcard pledges by voters to participate in the election of US Representative for Congressional District 23, which extends to the outskirts of El Paso, and State Representative for House Districts 117 and 118. In Houston, TMO organized assemblies with candidates for US Congressional District 7 and 29; House Districts 144, 133, and 135; and Senate District 17.
Already, unpaid armies of organizational leaders have knocked on thousands of doors and called thousands more to remind supporters and voters to participate in the midterm elections. Last weekend, for example, Austin Interfaith leaders knocked on doors in three counties, four legislative districts and 2 congressional districts. This weekend, all Texas IAF organizations are making a final push -- from the pews, inside health clinics and in long-neglected neighborhoods -- to ensure the highest turnout possible in support of their agenda.
Leaders understand that targeted voter engagement efforts following accountability assemblies help advance their agenda. This year alone, local Texas IAF organizations succeeded in raising municipal wage floors in San Antonio and Austin to $15 per hour; leveraging the support of Chief of Police Art Acevedo to make Houston the first city in Texas to support a gun safety strategy; and preventing unnecessary deportations through widespread adoption of identification cards generated by parishes within the Catholic Diocese of Dallas.
Candidates Share Platform at Assembly, Austin American Statesman
Why Dallas Republicans Skipped an Interfaith Forum, Rewire.News
DAI Accountability Forum [Video]
"In light of ...sacred traditions and in light of our immigrant story as a nation, EPISO and Border Interfaith call upon the federal government to negotiate a fair and humane immigration reform policy that serves the common good of both our country and those who seek a better life here, fleeing from fear and violence in their countries..."
Read Statement below:
EPISO, Border Interfaith Call for Human Immigration Policy, El Paso Times [pdf]
[Photo Credit: Mark Lambie, El Paso Times]
Over 20 years ago, a developer in the City of El Paso bought acreage in an undeveloped plot of land, an "island" landlocked by, but not included within, El Paso's municipal boundaries. The developer recorded the purchase with the County, but then â€” unbeknownst to anyone â€” illegally partitioned the land and sold the reduced-sized lots to low-income families without providing certificates of occupancy.Read more
In radio coverage about the Texas governor zeroing out the Colonia Initiative Program's nearly $860,000 budget, a story about the success of the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Committee (EPISO) emerged.Read more